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Taiwan seeks to break isolation at UN aviation agency
by Staff Writers
New York City, United Nations (AFP) July 10, 2013

Taiwan, New Zealand sign free trade deal
Taipei, Taiwan (AFP) July 10, 2013 - Taiwan signed a free trade agreement with New Zealand Wednesday, its first with a country that has diplomatic relations with China as it seeks to pursue similar deals regionally and halt a competitive slide.

The agreement was signed at a university in Wellington in a low-key event in an apparent bid to avoid upsetting China.

The "Agreement between New Zealand and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu on Economic Cooperation (ANZTEC)" was signed in the name under which the politically isolated island joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

Taiwan's economic and foreign ministers said the pact was considered a barometer and may kickstart the signing of a series of free trade deals between the island and other countries.

"These countries are all watching to see how the agreement will work," Taiwan's foreign minister David Lin told reporters following a video link of the signing ceremony.

"Hopefully a similar free trade agreement with Singapore will be signed very soon," he added.

Taiwan's has been seeking free trade agreements with its trading partners while former rival China has joined more regional economic blocs.

"Taiwan's economic ministry welcomes such a great achievement... as we continue to promote Taiwan's strategy to participate in regional economic integration," economic minister Chang Chia-chu said.

Currently Taiwan has free trade agreements with Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, all of them maintaining diplomatic ties with the island.

Dubbed a "comprehensive market liberalisation agreement", Wednesday's deal is expected to expand both Taiwan and New Zealand's market access, according to feasibility studies by both sides.

For Taiwan, the trade deal is expected to boost GDP by $303 million and the total national output by $1.18 billion after 12 years, according to its feasibility study, which also said it is expected to create more than 6,000 jobs.

Taiwan's manufacturing sector, in particular steel, plastics and car parts, are expected to be the island's main beneficiaries.

The deal is also set to lower the costs of popular agricultural produce, such as kiwi fruit, apples, milk and beef from New Zealand.

Taiwan levies tariffs of 5-12 percent on milk powder and cheese, leading import items from New Zealand, while import duties on kiwis and apples stand at 20 percent.

"This agreement will enhance New Zealand's growth prospects through vastly improved links with a major Asian economy," New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said in a statement.

According to Groser, it will immediately eliminate tariffs for over 70 percent of current exports to Taiwan, and will eventually allow 100 percent of New Zealand goods to enter tariff-free.

Taiwan has been pursuing trade deals in the region to help pave the way to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

New Zealand, like most countries, officially recognises Beijing over Taipei, and already has a free trade deal with China. Taiwan is New Zealand's 12th largest trading partner, with bilateral trade totalling about $120.7 million.

In 2011, Taiwan forged an investment protection agreement with Japan, as China relaxed previous strong opposition to economic deals between the island and third parties.

The apparent change in China's policy followed the signing of the sweeping Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between Beijing and Taipei in 2010.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, but tensions have eased markedly since 2008 after Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan's president on a China-friendly platform. He was re-elected last year.

Taiwan hopes to become an observer member of the UN's international aviation agency this year and ease its isolation imposed by China.

An International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) assembly in September is expected to vote on Taiwan's status, diplomats said.

China, which traditionally seeks to stifle any recognition of the island it considers part of its territory awaiting reunification, has so far not expressed opposition.

And Taiwan's campaign has been boosted by a bill passed by the US House of Representatives in June which called for US government backing for Taipei at the ICAO.

The European parliament passed a similar measure in 2010.

"I strongly hope that Taiwan will become an observer this year," said Brian Su, deputy director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, one of Taiwan's key diplomatic missions in North America.

"The US expressed a strong signal to the ICAO," he told AFP.

The move would have air safety and political dimensions, Su said.

Taiwan was a founding member of the ICAO but was thrown out in 1971 when it lost its UN seat to China.

Now despite more than one million flights carrying 40 million passengers in and out of Taiwan each year, Su said its ICAO status is a "safety loophole" as it cannot communicate with the international aviation watchdog.

There are now 400 flights between Taiwan and the United States each week and 1,200 between the island and mainland China, according to government figures.

The start of visa-free travel to the United States has increased the passenger load.

It currently takes two months for Taiwan's aviation information to get to other governments.

"That is very dangerous for flight safety," said Su.

"We need to stick to the regulations and the standards of ICAO, especially in anti-terrorism. We should share the flight information."

Taiwan has been anxiously seeking ways to regain international recognition since it lost its UN seat. President Ma Ying-jeou has dramatically improved ties with Beijing since he first took power in 2008.

It secured observer status at the UN World Health Organization's decision-making assembly in 2009 and if successful at the ICAO, it would like to also join the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Observer status at the 191-member ICAO would be an "accomplishment" for Ma's efforts and "showcase how Taiwan can use soft power to win international recognition," said Su.

A diplomatic source said the United States or a European government could take the lead in proposing Taiwan for observer membership at the ICAO assembly starting September 24.

"So far there is no negative sign from Beijing," said the diplomat.

Asked about Taiwan's application to the ICAO, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said this week: "The Chinese government pays high attention to the welfare of Taiwanese people and we understand their willingness to join relevant international organizations.

"Taiwan's willingness to join the ICAO is an issue for the Chinese. As long it will not create a situation of 'two Chinas' or 'one China and one Taiwan,' it can be properly solved through rational consultation across the Straits."

The ICAO keeps to "the one-China policy of the United Nations," said a spokesman, Anthony Philbin, when asked about moves around Taiwan. Mainland China is recognized as "the only legitimate representative of China to the ICAO."


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